Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tertian Retreat

We are now on a short silent retreat.  When it ends on Wednesday tertianship will be over.  I signed up for Mass on 14 August (tomorrow) in large part because it is the 14th anniversary of vows.  Because we are the only ones at Mass the homily can be focused a bit differently. 

The homily will most likely plant an "ear worm" in those of you around my age along with memories of the early British invasion on the radio, though these guys were American.  You must admit it is a great song.

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Tertian retreat Mass)
Is 56:1, 6-7
Ps 67:2-8
Rom 11:13-15, 29-32
Mt 15:21-28

For the three weeks beginning December 4, 1965 the #1 record on the Billboard Top 100 was by the American group The Byrds.  Folk-singer Pete Seeger wrote the music and six or seven of the words.  The rest of the lyric was taken verbatim from The Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3 verses 1 to 8.  Titled Turn! Turn! Turn! it begins:

To every thing (Turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (Turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap. . . .

The meaning of both Ecclesiastes and the song is open to multiple interpretations.  My read at present is that Ecclesiastes seems to be describing the parentheses that mark the boundaries of all human lives.  Lives that are made up of what I’ll call multiple parenthetical equations.  Some stand alone while others are parenthetical equations enclosed within parentheses that are enclosed within parenthetical equations themselves; something like an algebra student’s worst nightmares. 

In time some of the contents of the parentheses can be reduced to simple integers within the equations of our lives.  At other times the X’s and Y’s remain unknowns.  As tertians, whose names will soon appear in the catalog under the heading “awaiting final vows,” we are beginning to close an important parenthesis that will be completely closed when we kneel in front of the The Body and Blood of Christ and pronounce the final vow formula, in a variety of languages.  

Some of the elements within the tertianship parentheses are held in common:  Gerroa, the setting, though NOT the experience, at Sevenhill, and conferences that ranged from very good to deadly.   However, the vast majority of what is contained within the tertianship parentheses is unique to each man.  We can share some of it with each other as well as  with some of our friends.   It may be a little easier to share with other men who have completed tertianship than with our lay friends.  But, even deep within our own selves, we will continue to try to understand some of this for a long time. Some of our experiences, to take a page from Freud, will remain conscious while much more will flow between preconscious and unconscious.  And some will remain buried deep within the unconscious though it will still influence us.  During these seven months we all experienced light and shadow, consolation and desolation, clarity and confusion in proportions unique to each man.  We will need to take time on a regular basis to do the work of first, understanding the contents of the tertianship parenthesis and integrating them into the still-open parenthesis of our Jesuit lives.   And second, fitting all of that into the parenthesis that will close only when we die. 

A verse  from the first reading and the and one from the psalm are appropriate for these days of recollection.In the psalm we heard,

“O God, let all the nations praise you!”

We came here from all over the world to this house reenacting the linguistic and sociological confusion of the Tower of Babel, a confusion that has begun to clear.  Just as Pentecost was the reversal of Babel, we leave here with a better understanding of each other’s and our own vocations within the Society of Jesus, a vocation that takes us into Isaiah,

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  
Our lives across the world are proof of this.  But we can also paraphrase Isaiah:

“The men of the Society of Jesus shall be men of prayer for all peoples” 

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!

The first is from the cemetery in Sevenhill.  I spent a lot of time down there with the camera. Just behind the cemetery was one of the best places to spot kangaroos.  The shapes, shadows, light and silence were enhanced by the retreat.
The hosts, wine and water on the credence table at the back of St. Mary of the Angels in Port Lincoln.  This was my first Sunday morning there.  The light was catching things just so.  Thirty minutes after this was taken I began as celebrant of my first Mass in Port Lincoln.
The first light of the day illuminated the organ loft at St. Joseph's in Warrnambool.  This was one of the very few days on which the sun actually put in an appearance.
Continuing on the theme of light, Sevenhill was amazing.  The next three show the patterns of stained glass projected onto walls and, in the final shot, the floor.  The light changed dramatically as the setting sun flooded through the windows.  

The last is a bit of calligraphy from the long retreat.  There were three non-Jesuit priests making the retreat.  One of the men is a calligrapher.  One evening, when he was the celebrant for Mass, he distributed one of these which he wrote himself, to each (about 17) of us.  It was the words of a Taize chant that served as the opening hymn.  After Mass I walked back to the house and perched it in one of the rosebushes.   There is no possibility in this world that I could ever write like that.
+Fr. Jack, SJ

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